Summer 2021 Fulbright – June!

Hi all!

I have been delayed in getting this post up, but here is my summary on my adventures in Iceland during the month of June!

As I mentioned in my last post, you can read about my adventures here in the blog posts, follow me on Twitter (@drsrbayer) AND some of my (picture) updates can be found on Instagram on our new Roger Williams University Shellfish Program Instagram account @RWU_Shellfish_Program and you can follow me at @skylarrb26 for more frequent updates.

At the beginning of June, I had the pleasure of visiting the Tilraunaeldisstöð Hafrannsóknastofnunar (directly translates to Experimental Farm of the Marine Research Institute) in Grindavík. Hrönn Egilsdóttir who I know from Hafró took me along with her for a visit — the staff gave us a great tour of the facility.

At the facility they are able to run experiments at different salinities and various temperatures. Some of the species they currently house include cod, Arctic char, Atlantic salmon, flounder, capelin (including larval stages!), abalone and kelp!

One of the most fascinating facts I learned about the facility is that the incoming seawater is pumped through lava rocks which act as an amazing natural filter. This reduces the amount of equipment, time and money spent towards filtering seawater. The seawater filtered by the lava rocks is extremely clean and allows the staff to raise marine organisms that are particularly sensitive to water quality, like adorable lumpfish! See the Instagram link below to see a video of them swimming in one of the tanks.

I really enjoyed meeting the staff at this facility and I hope for collaborations with them in the future.

Later that week I was able to meet a number of the other Iceland Fulbright Scholars that I met virtually on May 10th (my first day in Iceland). It was really wonderful to be able to meet them in person for the first time and learn a bit about their research and experiences living in Iceland. For example, I learned from Corrie Nyquist (who is a graduate student studying the winter emergence of midges), that horse owners give their horses the summer off to roam the country so that they keep their free spirit.

The following week I set off for sea aboard the Bjarni Saemundsson for the annual lobster survey! Lobster in Iceland (humar) around Iceland are Norway lobster, Nephrops norvegicus. In some ways they look a lot more like a shrimp than a typical American lobster (which is what I’m used to coming from Maine and New England in general).

I was warned by a friend of mine who goes to sea for a living that the waters of the North Atlantic can be quite rough so I should buy plenty of seasick meds. However, I was told by one of the crew, who has spent his career at sea for decades said that the Bjarni (which means bear) was the stablest of all the ships I’d been on. I hoped he was right.

The crew and scientists immediately got to work setting up the work stations for the camera surveys — both the monitoring room and the sled deployment on deck.

On the second day of the cruise we got to witness a partial solar eclipse in the morning, just barely.

Aside from Jónas, the scientist crew (Anna, Arnþór, Hjalti) are all based at the Hafró office in Ísafjörður which is in the Westfjords (I’ll be visiting the Westfjords in August!) One thing that really impressed me about all of them (including Jónas), was how efficient they all were at doing their job and really knowing how to get the surveys done. And of course they had a good time working with each other.

We covered 90+ stations over the course of our 9 days at sea. Most of these stations were along the southern coast of Iceland. You can see a lot of these sites on the map below which are the fishing grounds around Iceland. Many of the fishing grounds that end in –djúp (means ‘deep’) are areas carved by glaciers on the southern edge of the island. These areas have lots of sediment that the Nephrops lobsters like to dig burrows in which we can see in the video surveys.

During the video surveys, the scientists count how many lobsters they observe and how many burrows (humar hole) they find in a transect. All their videos go into a big database at Hafró In addition to the 90+ video survey stations, the ship also did occasional trawls. There were not that many trawls completed because the lobster stocks have declined in recent years. They also completed larval surveys with a “Bongo” net (they call it a bongo net because it looks like a set of Bongo drums).

You can view some additional video highlights in the Instagram post below.

The views of the coast from the ship were absolutely amazing and we could see several places I visited with Sophia in my previous post, like Dyrhólaey, Katla, and Eyjafjallajökull.

While we were at sea, my friend Angel Ruiz-Angulo who is a professor of oceanography at the University of Iceland, was at sea on different survey aboard the Árni Friðriksson which was further offshore. We were comparing notes on how rough the weather was for a few days. One day it was so windy we hid behind a glacier. You can see it in the screenshot of the ship tracking below:

The biggest glacier on Iceland, which covers 11% of the area of Iceland, is Vatnajökull. It was an absolutely amazing to see it up close. Below are just a few photos of many I took while we took shelter (along with a lot of sea birds).

The wind continued to blow badly, so Jonas convinced the captain to stop in the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjabær) for about 12 hours. We got to visit with one of the Hafro staff there, walk around the part of the town that was covered by a volcanic eruption in 1973, and visit the museum about the eruption. It is incredible what was preserved in the ash from the eruption – a whole house is within the museum. It really is an incredibly beautiful set of islands. One of the things I learned at the museum is that Iceland’s newest island, Surtsey, has had its ecological succession studied since the 1960s when it began forming from a volcanic eruption.

One of the most exciting moments I had on the ship was when I was sitting by the rail by myself and a small pod of pilot whales came next to the boat, out of nowhere.

I can’t thank the crew enough for having me on board for 10 days — I spent a lot of time trying to understand Icelandic and had some great conversations with crew and scientists alike. The cook and cook’s assistant were particularly helpful in teaching me pronunciation of certain Icelandic words.

The summer solstice was on Monday, June 21st but it was cloudy and rainy that day. My coworkers Laure, Sandra, and I went for an evening hike on Helgafell (literally means ‘holy mountain’, and there are a lot of these in Iceland) in Hafnarfjordur. The pictures below are taken around 11 PM at night to give you an idea of the midnight sun. There won’t be a true nighttime in Iceland until later in August or early September (depending on what your definition of night is).

The end of June were some bright and beautiful days in Reykjavik — usually it’s cold, windy, and rainy, and a good day is when it’s only two of the three of those things. When it’s sunny and warm with a light breeze, it is absolutely gorgeous. Below is a gallery of some of my favorite murals and artwork in Reykjavik (although there is far, far more of it).

For my next blog entry, I’ll focus on the Iceland scallop work and story that Jónas and I have been developing these last few months.

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